He’d had breakfast there sometime around dawn. Tara hadn’t been there yet since she’d worked late last night. The back door was open at the moment. Sounds of pots and pans and cooking came across the water. It sounded homey and warm.
This morning, the diner had felt as empty as the streets did now. At the crosswalk, Morgan stopped, looking up and down the empty street, the back alley and at the assorted buildings.
A loud crack cut through the morning air. The big pine that sat among the stones on this side of the creek swayed precariously. The rocks were already loose from the past week’s frequent downpours and the creek’s swift current.
If that pine fell across the creek, it would reach the back of the diner. Nothing in its path was safe from harm.
He’d have to mention it to Tara. If—and that was a big if—she’d even talk to him.
Dread settled in close. This was not what he wanted his life to be. This was not who he wanted to be. Alone. Searching. Endlessly.
But right now, it didn’t matter what he wanted. What he needed was to find Sylvie and get Brooke back. He headed along the creek’s winding path away from the quaint diner and toward a very different part of town.
The rain fell in earnest now, in bigger drops that formed a curtain around him. With a curse, he picked up the pace, heading to the footbridge down the bank.
He’d just come around the corner of a body shop when he heard voices. He glanced back to see two twentysomething men huddling at the overhang of a rear doorway having a smoke.
“You going to the fight tonight?” one man asked the other. The voice was young and rough, cutting through the sound of the falling rain. Morgan slowed his pace.
“Nah. I gotta work.”
“You’re gonna miss a good one. I hear there’re three different matches.”
Morgan stopped, leaning against a brick wall, acting like he needed to rest instead of eavesdrop. This was exactly why he’d come down here. How many times had he heard this type of conversation? Some things never changed. A ball of dread filled his stomach.
“Anybody we know?”
“Yeah. Brawler’s supposed to be there. And some guy from Houston that Tate says is a real powerhouse. Could make a nice chunk of change quick if you pick the right guy.”
“I know. Probably make more than I’ll get in my paycheck.”
“Too bad there ain’t a match every night. I’m tired of working this damned hard.”
The men fell silent for a few minutes. Morgan stayed close enough to still hear anything else, hoping they’d say where the fights were going to be held.
Dewey had offered to come to Haskins Corners. He had to have known there was a fight scheduled. Morgan’s memories rushed in of all the years he’d made ends meet by fighting, the years before he’d realized how far on the fringes of reality he’d gone.
Would Sylvie return to her old habits? he wondered again. He strained to hear the men talk as the rain pattered louder. He barely caught the rest of their words, but he did hear railroad and barn. That had to be where the fight would be. Tonight.
Like all the rest, it’d be late enough in the night that the normal world was settled in their quaint little houses, but not so late that the fringe elements were already drunk or stoned enough not to care.
Was this the break he’d been waiting for? Would he finally find Sylvie there? Was Brooke nearby? Or would he be totally disappointed?
He had to try.
* * *
“I CAN’T BELIEVE you said that to him.” Wendy’s voice carried clear across the dining room to Tara. It helped that the place was empty, but still.
“Shh. Apparently Wade has a big mouth.” Tara glared in the general direction of the kitchen, knowing full well the cook couldn’t see her.
“If you chased Morgan away, there’ll be hell to pay.” Wendy worked furiously, a bit too furiously, cleaning the back counter. That chrome was going to be real shiny when she got all her anger worked out.
“And why is that exactly?” Tara glared at Wendy, too. She was getting quite good at it. Rolling her eyes at herself, she finished putting the last of the catering orders into the system.
She’d always loved to cook, always dreamed of owning her own restaurant. As a kid, dreaming big, she hadn’t known what a caterer was. Now she did. It was the part of the business that would keep the doors open, and the part she found the most challenging.